For the four sisters Sledge (Kim, Debbie, Joni and Kathy), it was true and their song reached #1 on the R&B charts in 1979 (I am humming it as I type): “Everyone can see we’re together…close …giving love as a family does…we are family….” I hope this describes your family in an unlimited and unconditional way. But for the organization you lead, “we are family” needs to be limited and conditional.
It is not unusual to hear someone say about their co-workers, “we are like a family.” Sometimes even the boss is included in the family group. When the meaning is we work together, care about each other, and feel like we “belong,” that’s good. But if it begins to mean that we have the same rights, privileges and protections as a family, then sooner or later, it will become a problem.
Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, created a lot of nationwide conversation when he made it clear to employees that, “We’re a team, not a family.” There are a lot of differences between teams and families. Participation on a team is conditional, based on one’s contribution to success. Membership in a family is unconditional and permanent, based on birthright. In families, we tend to encourage everyone to do their best. On teams, someone’s best may not be good enough no matter how hard he or she tries.
A leader who fosters a “family atmosphere” is creating expectations that cannot always be fulfilled. Teams improve by constantly upgrading their talent—replacing the quarterback or guitar player when necessary—no matter how hard they try or how “loved” they are. It is both awkward and difficult to replace the quarterback or guitar player if they have been told repeatedly, “you are family.”
The leader’s role is not that of surrogate father or mother of the employees. Coach? Yes. Encourager? Yes. Caring and concerned? Yes. Developer? Yes. Champion? Yes. But not as father or mother and not “no matter what.” For your team to win, you need someone who can actually play center field, not just do her best. So for the good of your team, shed the father or mother image and start leading.
Suspecting that some of you will disagree with me, please contribute to the conversation by posting your comments.
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© Copyright 2013 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company.
"The best way to lead people into the future is to connect with them deeply in the present."
Kouzes & Posner